Some People Say I'm Not Senatorial

Paul Wellstone in pictures and in his own words

 Editor's note: The Wellstone quotations that appear here are culled from a series of unpublished interviews with City Pages in 1992, following his first year in the Senate.

 

They Criticize My Suits

Terry Gydesen

There's this assumption that I can't be effective because of style. And that therefore I'll be irrelevant. Well, first of all, that presupposes that the politics we have right now is relevant. You could argue that being irrelevant to what is irrelevant may make you relevant.

Some people say my style is not senatorial. Some of that is hype. There's a lot of crap--you're supposed to go certain places, talk a certain way. It's just ridiculous. Stupid stuff. They criticize my suits. I don't know what they're talking about. What is that? I have some suits I bought that are nice enough. [George] Mitchell has done a couple of introductions of me and he always goes back to this story about the coast of Maine: "You walk along the coast, and the rocks are smooth, and that's what happens: The waves beat along the coast and smooth the rocks. And every once in a while you'll find a rock with a jagged edge. He's the jagged edge. And we need that."

 

My Best Friend In The World

You know, you have the work of being in the Senate. That's the icing on the cake, and the cake is your personal life. I'm very fortunate that I have a real good relationship of mutual support with someone I can always talk to and I trust more than anybody else--my best friend in the world.

The other thing, we don't always agree. Sheila is very forthcoming about the way she sees things, and she's willing to be very critical. She's supportive, but she'll tell me if she thinks I'm making a mistake. The difference between the two of us is that I tend to be emotional and instinctual. I make decisions very quickly. I don't like to be overly cautious. Sheila is a person who steps back more and says, Before you do this, I want you to consider this and this and this. You should wait, you should think about it. Sometimes I'll turn to her and say, I didn't get in the Senate to walk on eggshells. Now we're here and you can't hold onto the position for dear life; you use it for things you believe in. And that's true. But by the same token, politics and public service is pretty rigorous, and you've gotta be solid in your approach to things. She's very solid.

 

People Around The State Call Me Paul

I'd like to be back in every community more regularly. But I'm here all the time. I've turned down almost all national speaking engagements. I get a lot of requests. I don't know how to say it to you... I still go into cafés, but so many people come up to me, not just at town meetings. I can't figure it out... Most of the people around the state call me Paul. It bothered me for a long time, because I thought these were all people I'd met before and I ought to know their names. But I realized they don't actually know me. They just call me Paul.

I like to go to movies, and when we're back here we'll try to catch a movie. People are always surprised to see me there. Last weekend we went to the new Edward James Olmos movie, American Me. I thought it was devastating. It makes Boyz N the Hood seem mild.

Two-thirds of the people at this film were Hispanic or black. I was real pleased that they were coming up to greet me and talk to me. After the film, I was leaving and I felt a hand on my shoulder. This 15, 16-year-old kid has tears in his eyes, and he says, My father was murdered last year by the gangs. And I'm just talking to you because you seem like someone who cares about people. I just want you to know that this isn't just some L.A. thing.

What can I say to him? That's the hardest part of the job. When people come up to me and I relate to them and I can't do anything for them. If you go through my floor speeches on the Senate, I'm constantly trying to connect what we do there to people's lives. Every week I go back to Washington with pictures of people and conversations in my mind, and I try to make the connections. But I don't control the agenda. Trying to get more in control and as efficient as I can in every way--that's the biggest pressure I feel.

 

Round-Tripping It

I always say to people, No, it's much easier now being in the Senate than when I was teaching. Now I'm in a position that causes people to pay attention.

I spent many, many years driving from Northfield to southwest and west central Minnesota, round-tripping it, 150 to 200 miles each way, sometimes through blizzards and bitterly cold weather, by myself. Now I have people that help me. I have a lot of people to help me with my work. It was difficult then. This is a difficult job, but no more difficult than a lot of jobs.

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